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Down Beat :: an interview with Jason Koransky
by Eugene Dolgikh 19-Sep-1999

We, Russian jazz fans, have already known Down Beat for many years as one of the only true jazz authorities which regularly informs us about our favorite and new musicians. Many years ago we used to read down to tatters every copy of the magazine which we could find (and it was an extremely hard task to get it in the USSR). Now there are many jazz issues and this fact is pleasant for sure, but Down Beat remains the same — the source of info about main jazz events and people.

Now you can read the talk between the two editors — Eugene Dolgikh (chief-editor of JazzQuad) and Jason Koransky (associate editor of DownBeat)

Eugene: First of all please tell a little about yourself and how you joined DB team.

Jason: I joined Down Beat in May 1998. I had been music editor at Centerstage Chicago (centerstage.net/chicago), a virtual guide to Chicago before I joined, as well as a magazine editor at Imagination Publishing, and a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune and Rollingstone.com. I'm originally from Denver, Colorado, and came to Chicago in 1992 (Down Beat is based in Elmhurst, Ill., a suburb of Chicago) to attend journalism school at Northwestern University. I'm a trumpet player, unmarried … and I have loved jazz since I was a little boy. Honestly, I am in my dream job right now.

E: What are you in charge for in the magazine?

J: As Managing Editor, I am responsible for editing, assigning, writing, etc. the feature well, the Blindfold test, Jazz World, Caught in the Act, Players, On The Beat, Backstage With … and several other departments in the magazine. I am also in charge or producing and organizing content for Downbeatjazz.com, traveling to festivals and conferences, assigning photos for the magazine and numerous other managerial duties. It's a hefty job.

E: Are there many people with musical education in the DB team? I have been hearing since I began to deal with JazzQuad that both jazz critic and journalist must have special musical education, but I'm not agree. What is your opinion?

J: I have been playing trumpet since I was 9 years old, and consider myself a decent amateur, and the associate editor, Dave Zaworski, is a professional bass and guitar player. I did not formally study music while in college, although I played in bands and orchestras in and around Chicago, while Dave did study music, even spending a couple of years at the prestigious jazz school at the University of Miami in Florida. I believe that a jazz critic does not have to have a music education, but that they need to have a good foundation in music. What I mean by this is that they have to understand the music beyond what they hear at ear level. They have to be able to dissect the music into parts and look at it analytically. If you have the ability to do this without a formal music education, that will suffice. One other qualification: You have to love the music.

E: Jason, can you say that when you write on jazz you “turn off” your own tastes and preferences? Or you are a bit biased in your writing?

J: I do not consider myself a critic. Rather, I consider myself a writer. However, I would not be telling the truth if I said that I do not use my own tastes and preferences to decide what I am going to write about or assign. For instance, Wynton Marsalis is going on the cover of the December issue. I opted to assign a writer who likes Wynton's music a lot rather than one who can be very critical of him. Why? I want the best interview possible in the magazine, and the person who can build a repoire with him will get the best interview. It's impossible to not have any bias in your writing. Impossible.

E: And of course I can't but ask who are your favorites in jazz & blues — classical and modern?

J: I first have to talk about trumpet players, of course. I named my cat Miles, so quite obviously, Miles Davis is a huge influence of mine. He represents the essence of a jazz artist. Other classic trumpeters who I admire include Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Dizzy, Fats Navarro. I can listen to Louis Armstrong all day and never get bored or tired. He's a one-of-a-kind man. You know, this list could just continue on and on. I can go over to piano players, where Monk and Ellington (yes, I consider him a piano player) are favorites.

Today, it's hard for me to narrow down on a few favorites. I love Wynton Marsalis, Brad Mehldau, Nicholas Payton, Joe Lovano, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Danilo Perez, Chucho Valdes … again, I love music too much to answer this one. I am always surprised when I find another amazing artist.

E: I myself consider DB website to be the best of jazz periodical sites (and not only periodical). But why it started so late?

J: Thank you for the compliment. Honestly, we wanted to wait until we could put out the best jazz Web site, and our partnership with Tunes.com, who also produced Rollingstone.com (rock & roll) and Thesource.com (hip-hop) allows us the opportunity to combine the Down Beat editorial expertise with the technological prowess of a powerful Web company. I must brag a little bit here: The Web site started when I came on-board at the magazine. I have a Web background, so it was natural for me to be in charge of the Web site.

E: What are the nearest and more far plans for the DB website? Will it be filled with most of DB archives?

J: We are planning on placing approximately 500 Down Beat Blindfold Tests and hundreds of archived stories on the site in the near future. In addition, we are looking at building a jazz education component, expanding Down Beat Radio to include more live shows and interview, building an interactive Blindfold Test, expanding our digital download section (MP3s and Liquid Audio files) and much more. It's a very exciting time at the magazine in regards to the Web site..

E: What are the most encouraging and the most discouraging moments of your daily work in DB?

J: I love speaking with musicians. When I receive a call from an artist who wants to talk music, then it's a good time. In addition, when we receive a new issue in the door, I love that. Also, writing or editing a great story is inspiring. Discouraging times come often as well. I've lost plenty of sleep and found plenty of gray hairs worrying over deadlines and stories. I also cannot stand the rampant negativity in jazz. It's a party music. It should be fun. People take it too seriously sometimes.

E: What in your opinion is the difference between jazz critic and jazz journalist? To whom would you reckon yourself?

J: A jazz critic feels the responsibility of being a gatekeeper between the artist and the public, opening the gate when they feel that the music suffices. A journalist is a conduit between the artist and the public, opening as many circuits as possible. I'm a journalist. If you notice, I do not review CDs in the magazine.

E: Do you consider modern and traditional jazz as rivals today? Or do they have completely different fans?

J: This is a major issue in jazz. In the '90s, we've seen almost every record ever made reissued in the form of a regular CD or a boxed set. This raises the question: How can today's artist compete against the recorded legacy of, say, Miles Davis or Duke Ellington? The answer is simple: They cannot. Jazz artists today have to look back to their sources, but that also feel the need to innovate. After all, jazz without progress dies a quick death. Still, jazz is one music, but it has so many different colors. Some people like red, while others like blue. See what I mean? A jazz artist today can only hope to latch on to some strain of the past, and then hope to paint their own unique color. Of course, avant-garde and traditional swing fans will clash. But a person can like both. It's really a matter of each individual's taste.

E: I've heard an opinion from artists that all modern jazz is much influenced by Eastern music. What can you say on it?

J: If you consider "Eastern music" as music from Asia, then I do not agree. If you say it has African roots, then I do agree, to an extent. Jazz was born in New Orleans, and of course, the rhythms of Congo Square hail straight from Africa. I'm not quite sure if I follow your reasoning here. If it means all jazz has Asian influences, I disagree with you 100 percent. Do you really hear an Asian influence in Bill Evans or Louis Armstrong?

E: Jason, what is your own account of European and, of course, Russian jazz. My point of view is that American and European jazz walk not parallel ways but divergent — are you agree?

J: I think that Russians and Americans see the world differently, and therefore the music reacts in different ways. It goes all the way down to the language. I've studies a little bit of Russian (one year in college), and one thing that I noticed with the language is that the world seems to be acting on the individual, while in English, the individual acts upon the world. Russian is more passive than English. Therefore, the music has a different feel. It doesn't attack as hard as some American jazz. However, we cannot always speak in generalities. So I agree with you that the pasts are inherently different.

E: Do you think DB pays enough attention to all kinds of jazz? I with my experience of JazzQuad (rather small) believe that it's quite impossible recently — too many musicians and events are around.

J: It's impossible to cover everything. We receive dozens of new CDs every week. I want to expand our coverage of Latin jazz, hip-hop, blues, world beat and rock. I do not think that Down Beat can have blinders in its coverage. For example, pianist Brad Mehldau covered a version of the rock group Radiohead's "Exit Music (For A Film)" on his Songs-Art of the Trio Volume III album. It was beautiful. New sounds and directions are constantly being created. People don't always get excited about the music from big-money promotional campaigns (although they definitely help). People get excited because you never know when you'll hear a band that's pushing the envelope. As crazy as this may sound, jazz musicians and fans constantly should keep their ears turned to the rock world. Sure, study jazz tradition, practice jazz, perform jazz and listen primarily to jazz. But don't get too lost in the past. The thing is, young jazz musicians can't help but to turn their ear to rock, rap and r&b for inspiration. While growing up in the MTV generation, the music has provided the soundtrack to their lives, and art usually imitates the world in which we live.

E: Please say some words especially for Russian readers and jazz fans.

J: Jazz is so organic. It will grow anywhere. From my small exposure to the Russian jazz scene, such as through the Boheme label and artists such as Igor Butman, I am extremely impressed by the breadth and the quality of the scene. Beautiful jazz is oftentimes created in the most unusual of circumstances. Keep on playing, advancing the art form. I'm excited to hear all of it!

published 25.05.2005ฉ 2005 jazz news :: home page

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